Review - Hyde Park on Hudson

In spite of the sweeping subject matter--pending World War, spousal dynamics, extramarital affairs, the Great Depression, and visits from the British King and Queen--Hyde Park on Hudson left me lukewarm.

The story is an interesting one: Daisy (Laura Linney) is summoned to Hyde Park, FDR’s home away from the White House. The President (Bill Murray) greets his fifth or sixth cousin--but really, who’s counting?--sparks fly, there’s a country drive with a pleasant ending, and the rest, as they say, is history. In fact, all we really know of Daisy before she enters this surreal world as one of Roosevelt’s mistresses is that she takes care of her elderly aunt near the presidential retreat.

Much of the film revolves around a pre-War visit from the King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Consort Elizabeth of England (Olivia Coleman) to Hyde Park. It’s the summer of 1939 and Europe is bracing for a conflict that is a foregone conclusion; Britain is desperately trying to assemble allies. When the royal couple arrives the audience observes culture clashes and misunderstandings. It’s noblesse oblige versus the Electoral College.

In fact, while Director Roger Michell depicts Roosevelt as a charming scamp, the King and Queen don’t fare so well...especially the Queen Mum. Uncertain and uncomfortable with their unplanned prominence, Elizabeth and ‘Bertie’ are befuddled by the absence of protocol and obsession with ‘the hot dog’ in this woodsy retreat. While he is afforded one-on-ones with the President, Elizabeth is stranded in her room. Their interactions are often tension-filled, with unwelcome comparisons to the King’s playboy, abdicating brother. Anybody hoping to revisit the warmth between Helena Bonham Carter and Colin Firth’s royals would be well advised to...well, re-watch The King’s Speech. Nonetheless, I thought West’s King George VI was an especially strong performance in this film.

And while the love story between FDR and Daisy is meant to take centre stage, it was the dynamic between the American hosts and British guests that was most compelling. Murray and West’s scenes together were wonderfully scripted and the actors well-matched. We are given a look at a consummate politician who was an excellent social observer and a young king still finding his footing. When the visit concluded, I was left wishing the film would wrap up swiftly, as well.

Hyde Park on Hudson, for me, was fine. There are stand-out performances and interesting glimpses into the inner workings of the atypical relationship that was President Roosevelt and Eleanor (Olivia Williams). And there’s the rub: there are glimpses, nothing more. As the narrative progressed, I found Daisy’s voice-over narration—an establishing tool used through the film—both distracting and melodramatic. If anyone knows how to make the line “Oh, how I longed for him,” not embarrassing, please let me know. That said, Linney is a gifted, totally underrated actress. In less skilled hands, this performance could have easily entered the realm of saccharine.

FDR is an interesting historical figure, not solely because of his presidency, but also because of the cast of characters with whom he surrounded himself. With this in mind, Hyde Park on Hudson would have been well served to show  much more interaction between this competent cast--especially Daisy, Eleanor, and Elizabeth Marvel, who played Missy, the President’s Secretary and yes, other mistress. (There was a third, but again, who’s counting?) Front loading clarifying dialogue would have been charitable, but so would consistent pacing. I found the shift between light-hearted historical romp to serious emotional tear jerker, replete with heavy handed score, more than a little jarring.

For those who have read Margaret Logan Marquez’s book upon which the film is based, perhaps these areas of confusion were absent altogether or negligible. While history buffs might enjoy this interpretation of one portion of FDR’s presidency, let me say this: Mr. President, you’re a cad.

(Out of 4 Stars)

Meg Pirie is a lifelong Londoner who works in communications. Check out her website at http://writeonfreelancing.com. She tweets brilliantly @meg_pirie.